According to Lodge, duration is “measured by comparing the time events would have taken up in reality with the time taken to read about them”. In other words, duration can be associated with how long or short events are discussed within literature, which both affects the reader’s interpretation and relates to the theme. It helps create effects such as hastening the tempo evident in the story, emphasizing the theme, focusing on specific events, and providing brevity. Lodge also states that duration affects “the sense we have that a novel is fast-moving or slow-moving”, which is referred to as “narrative tempo”. This “tempo” is often described as fast or slow, depending on how the author chooses to convey their story. The author’s decisions that regulate the tempo of a story are influenced by the effect the author wishes to have on the reader.
If duration is handled in a way that makes the narrative unfold too quickly, it can leave the reader feeling confused with what is happening in the story. This is used by Twain when he toys with the length of events in the story and to shed light on a bigger picture. For instance, in “The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief”, Twain uses duration to skim through Jim’s life as a grown up to show the irony of both the narrator and society’s obsession with Jim being held accountable for his childhood mischief, but not caring about the murder and other evil acts he committed throughout his adult life. Another example is the duration of Jacob’s actions, which are given extensively to emphasize the irony of being a good boy versus a bad boy in real society. In this story, Jim is the bad boy and Jacob is the good boy. In addition, the author presents the horrid acts that Jim has committed with no consequences and a rather happy life, while the good boy is blamed for everything and suffers. It relates to the topic of duration since there is evidence of it throughout the story.
In fact, it is evident when Jim is said to steal his mother’s jam from a cabinet and then said to steal apples from a farmer’s apple tree. In both cases, the author skips over the rest of Jim’s life and it is only discussed in a few pages when it lasted for years in reality. According to Lodge’s chapter, this is called fast tempo, which relates to how the short story is “fast-moving” (187). This is seen when the last part of the story states that Jim grows up and gets happily married, and even raises a family. However, the story reveals one final twist, reveals that Jim has killed his family, and ends with no explanation (short duration). This is similar to George’s case since he is only introduced and discussed in one paragraph of the story when his life actually lasted for years.
Additionally, events such as the fact that Jim committed murder at the end of the story emphasizes the theme of how parents force children to act well when they themselves act differently (Jim’s mother is revealed as horrible and abusive in the story as evidence) and creates a sense of comedy with the ridiculousness of the action to the reader, and may even confuse them. The themes and effects are similar in “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper”, in which the duration is short at first, but becomes longer when specific parts of the story are emphasized. In the beginning, a few moments from Jacob’s life are discussed but in brevity. However, throughout the rest of the story, the author travels through Jacob’s whole life, discussing how he was good but never lived a good life like the Sunday books mentioned. This also includes a fast tempo since Jacob’s entire life was discussed in just a few pages. It can also be associated with the themes relevant to the first story since the author is using duration to emphasize the ideas that the Sunday books incorrectly represent reality (the good sometimes suffer), and the good may act so even when their parents are the opposite.
In “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It”, Aunt Rachel tells the story of her life as a slave as an effect of racism. She discusses slave auctions, slave conditions, and experiences with her family in great detail. These experiences show that both Aunt Rachel and others affected by slavery lived an unfortunate life and were belittled by the “officers”, or those with lighter skin (49). In relation to Lodge’s chapter on duration, Aunt Rachel talks about her life in just a few pages even though her generation suffered for years in slavery. There was also fast tempo where events were discussed one day to the other as Aunt Rachel told her story. For example, when Aunt Rachel mentioned the slave auctions, she quickly shifted the topic to talk about her Henry (her son), then to the barber, and more afterward.
In “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”, Twain portrays Christian religion through Adam’s diary entries, the person who was God’s first male creation. These entries consist of Adam’s daily experiences with Eve, the first woman created by God. At first, Adam dislikes her since she has interrupted his way of life, but grows to like her by the end of the short story. Throughout the story, there are also several strange references. The reason why these references are unusual is that they are references to modern amenities such as “keep off the grass” signs and the Niagara Falls (Twain 121). I believe that these references ridicule religion since the short story discusses pedestrian topics that no one would really care about. In relation to Lodge’s chapter on duration, the short story is split into days, which displays duration since it reveals what occurred each day. The day by day narration leads the reader to expect an emphasis on the moment Adam and Eve are removed from the Garden of Eden, but Twain glosses over that part and makes the cause of their ejection unclear purposefully.
In “Eve’s Diary”, the experience is similar since the diary entries are split into days yet again. Throughout her entries, Eve discusses her life experiences in great detail with Adam in her life as he did with her though she mostly talks about her relationship with him. This may be true since he is the only other human being present with her and they have grown to love one another. Although the organization of both short stories is similar since they are split into days, they are longer in length and shift to not just months and a few years, but as long as forty years and even her death. This is an example of fast tempo because much time is skipped in Eve’s life, especially at the end of the short story. In the end, Eve makes the ultimate wish that love is evident between every husband and wife, and is even named after her. This is ironic since there are more complex issues in today’s society such as divorce, which seems to ridicule her experiences since life is more complex than the life she lived. Overall, I believe that Twain uses duration in his stories according to Lodge’s chapter to both ridicule religion and to shed light on the truths of society.
~ Sameeha K. ~
Lodge, David. The art of fiction. Vintage, 2011.
Twain, Mark. The best short stories of Mark Twain. Edited by Lawrence I. Berkove, Modern Library, 2004.